Lake County program helping residents manage their diabetes

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Here's To Your Health: Juan Carlos Cortes (left) and Ignacio Cortes (right) participated in Be Well-Lake County's Harvest Event held in August. Community gardening is one component of Lake County's Be Well program. | Courtesy of Lake County -- Be Well

Local Stats:
Diagnosed Diabetes Prevalence

In Lake County:

2004: 6.3 percent

2010: 7.3 percent

In Cook County:

2004: 7.3 percent

2010: 9.1 percent

Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention

Diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes when her husband was serving in Iraq, Beatriz Mari of North Chicago struggled with the disease for several years. But now she’s got the assistance of Be Well-Lake County, a local program that is helping her to get her diabetes under control.

Be Well-Lake County, a partnership among NorthShore University HealthSystem (a system that includes four hospitals ­­— Evanston, Glenview, Highland Park and Skokie), the Lake County Health Department and the Community Health Center, helps patients manage their diabetes ­ — a disease that affects 7.3 percent of adults in Lake County and is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States.

Through education, support and fitness groups, onsite hemoglobin A1c testing, medication assistance, testing supplies, nutritional counseling and a team of professional healthcare providers, patients of Be Well-Lake County are better equipped to deal with the challenges that a major life-threatening disease presents. The Be-Well experts recommended physical activities and nutrtional changes for Mari.

“I feel more positive and energetic physically and mentally,” Mari said. “I enjoy my life more as a result of all these changes. The Be Well program taught me about my condition and how I can live with it; it has given me, and my family, a better quality of life.”

The program, offered at Lake County Health Department’s North Chicago Community Health Center and the Belvidere Medical Building in Waukegan, grants disadvantaged low-income diabetics invaluable access to healthcare and resources. Much of the philanthropic support, which makes this program possible, comes directly from The Auxiliary at Highland Park Hospital and individual donations.

“Our purpose is to provide management and to improve the outcome of underserved patients with diabetes,” said Christy Arnold, coordinator of the Be Well-Lake County program. “An interdisciplinary model, that includes data and research to measure outcomes, is a strong component. When patients come in, they meet the doctor, nurse, case manager and the dietician all in one visit; they don’t need separate appointments and they learn who their whole team is.”

And the program extends beyond hospital walls. For example, in Be Well-Lake County’s community garden initiative, patients plant and grow vegetables, receive instruction on how to best prepare the yield through cooking demonstrations via dietician instruction, and then the patients get to bring some of the food home with them.

According to Arnold, who is also a dietician and a diabetes educator, patients get all of their needs met through Be Well-Lake County. For example, even translators are available for the large population of Spanish speakers.

“Another thing we do with our partnership with NorthShore University HealthSystem, our funder that makes everything possible, is refer our patients, a majority of which are self-paying, to specialists that can help them,” Arnold said.

One of these accessible NorthShore University HealthSystem specialists is Harry Papagianis, DPM, a podiatrist that helps Be Well-Lake County patients.

“Collaborating on the best possible foot care for patients with diabetes is crucial to maintaining quality of life for years to come, and early recognition and treatment of any complication is critical. Be Well provides the perfect platform for preventative treatment and collaboration. The care being offered to patients with diabetes by Be Well is saving lives and limbs,” Papagianis said.

Managing diabetes is a sticky wicket for many people suffering from the disease.

“With diabetes, both Type I and Type II, if left unmonitored and untreated it can bring added, potentially serious complications to the patient,” Papagianis said. “Proper diabetic care is a balance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle, including proper diet and exercise, along with following treatment plans and prevention plans set in collaboration with physicians.”

But with programs like Be Well-Lake County, navigating has become much clearer.

“I’m very proud of the program,” said patient Mari. “I belong to a group where you count as a human being.”